CINEMA

PS Paul Smith - Cotton top, Jeans

A MEETING WITH VICTOR POLSTER

By Armelle Leturcq

A perfect stranger to audiences until a few months ago, Victor Polster emerged as a young talent to watch in Girl, a film directed by Lukas Dhont and presented at the latest Cannes Film Festival. In it, he plays Lara, a fifteen-year-old girl trapped in a boy’s body and determined to become a prima ballerina. In his very first foray into film, the Belgian dancer offers up a stunning performance that impressed the Un Certain Regard jury enough to earn him the Best Performance award. We chatted with the teenage wonder about his bright future on stage and screen.

Can you tell us about your background?

It all started at my dance school when we got an email inviting us to audition for a supporting role in the movie Girl. I wanted to try my luck because I really liked the idea of working with a great choreographer like Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. It was an incredible opportunity for a dancer. Afterwards, Lukas Dhont sent me an email offering me a bigger part. I said yes. (laughs) I auditioned at his apartment with Arieh Worthalter, who plays the father in the movie. It was very relaxed: we even cooked a meal! Lukas wanted to see if there was any chemistry between the father and me. When he eventually told me I got the part, he asked me if I was sure I wanted to commit to a project that would be so physically and emotionally demanding.

Did the urge to become an actor come to you out of the blue?

Yes, completely. I was very lucky to be attending the right school at the right time. It’s the Royal Ballet School Antwerp, which is considered to be the top dance school in Belgium.

How long have you taken classes there?

I’m about to start my fifth year and I have two left.

You started dance at nine years old?

Yes. I started with jazz and modern dance, then I moved on to classical at another school. I also started contemporary there. I wanted to keep going, so I went to Antwerp.

Antwerp does both classical and contemporary?

Yes, we do four hours of classical a day and two hours of contemporary a week. It’s based largely on classical.

Did acting in Girl open up new possibilities for you?

Yes, definitely. You learn a lot on a film set. But I still plan to finish school and keep dancing. I would like to join a contemporary dance company, while staying open to film projects.

How do you approach acting without having taken any acting lessons?

We improvised a lot on set with Arieh. I also did a lot of physical training. When you present as a girl, you also start to get into a girl’s mindset. By seeing myself with extensions, make-up and heels, I managed to slip right into character. Lukas knew what to say to get me to express certain emotions which were relatively complicated without having done theater. Arieh gave me a lot of advice and some things just happened to come together during filming.

Was it an intimate set?

Yes, it was small and there weren’t many of us. We shot mostly at my school in Antwerp. We also shot in Ghent and Brussels.

How did you react when you found out the film was selected for Cannes?

It was a big surprise for Lukas and me. We knew it was a special film, but we never dreamed it would go to Cannes, and winning the best actor prize was a total shock. There were so many impressive people in my category. It was surreal. It’s too bad I wasn’t able to attend because school was in session in Antwerp. It was so unexpected that I didn’t even think to make the trip. (laughs) It was very emotional. But I did manage to make it there for the presentation of the Caméra d’Or.

What do you think about the film industry?

I love film because it can talk about so many things and reach people more easily than dance. The distance between the audience and the stage is vast. With film, I always feel like I’m so close to the character. You can communicate things to people with so much emotion.

Have your parents supported you in this endeavor?

Yes, they have been so kind and encouraged me to pursue the project. They saw that there was something special in the script. Lukas loved the project and it showed.

The subject matter didn’t scare them off?

Just a little bit. They were probably afraid I would stay in character afterwards. They were also worried I would hurt myself dancing on pointe. But Lukas and the producer did a lot to reassure them. I took pointe classes before the shoot to make sure I wouldn’t get hurt. We knew it would be shot in a very bright and poetic way. It’s a very strong subject seen through an aesthetic lens.

Did you identify with the character?

I relied on dance to get into character, starting with observing the ballerinas in my class. I studied the way they move and how they talk, even when they aren’t dancing. It helped me get into the part. I became one with Clara during the shoot.

Was it easy for you to break character after filming?

It was tough sometimes. On shooting days, it was too hard to break character because, physically, I was a girl. It took some time afterwards, especially when I was dancing. I had to relearn how to dance like a boy, because I couldn’t continue learning otherwise. And I was still Victor in my classmates’ eyes, so the people around me helped me make the switch.

Did playing a girl make you think about what it’s like for women in dance?

I knew that women had much different problems in dance. Dance classes are not coed, so it was the first time I got to see girls’ classes. Things seem more neutral in contemporary dance, but classical dance is still very traditional. That said, more men have started to dance on pointe as we make more progress. One thing is certain: girls suffer more than boys in dance. Dancing on pointe is painful. I can’t believe they manage to do it for hours on end.

Do you plan to focus on contemporary?

Yes, I have a greater aptitude for contemporary and there are fewer and fewer dance companies dedicated to classical dance. It will disappear in time because dancers can do so much more with contemporary.

Are there any choreographers you would love to work with?

I like a lot of dance companies, like Peeping Tom in Belgium, which mixes many different theatrical arts. Then there is GöteborgsOperans Danskompani and Batsheva in Tel Aviv. All those companies have a foot in the future. They’re all doing something new.

Do you have any upcoming film projects?

No, not yet. I have plenty of time. (laughs) I know Lukas Dhont is working on something, with the same writing partner I assume. He hasn’t told me much about it yet…

PS Paul Smith – cotton sweatshirt, hooded jacket in cotton                                                                                                                        Paul Smith – wool pants, trainers in suede and leather

PS Paul Smith – Cotton sweatshirt, jeans                                                                                                                                                   Paul Smith – Wool jacket

Paul Smith – Cotton sweatshirt, wool jacket, wool pants, trainers in suede and leather

Paul Smith – Wool Tuxedo, silk shirt

Paul Smith – Wool Tuxedo, silk shirt, leather trainers

Photographer : Bertrand Jeannot

Stylist : Armelle Leturcq

Stylist assistant : Pauline Grosjean

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